Friday, 13 November 2009

More CD reviews (The Straits Times, November 2009)

Deutsche Grammophon 477 7453

This is the second CD recording on the “Yellow Label” by young Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz, winner of the 2005 Chopin International Piano Competition. Its three classical sonatas prove that he is more than just a Chopin-player, but a musician of interpretive insight and finesse.

Rarely has Haydn’s Sonata No.52 in E flat major sounded so ahead of its time; its grand majestic opening chords, air of contemplation in the slow movement and hectic finale all look ahead to Beethoven. Conversely, Beethoven’s youthful Sonata in A major (Op.2 No.2) is possessed with a spirit and vivacity that recalls Haydn. There is little to separate late Haydn and early Beethoven, it seems. This superb recital concludes with Mozart’s Sonata in D major (K.311) of 1777, ironically the earliest work of the three, where its symphonic pretensions and digital virtuosity predate both the Haydn and Beethoven. Blechacz is one name truly worth following.

The People United Will Never Be Defeated!
Naxos 8.559360

If there were a 20th century reply to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, that would be this hour-long behemoth; 36 variations by the Polish-American pianist-composer Frederic Rzewski (born 1938) on the Chilean socialist anthem El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido! The melody is slightly banal but has a catchy swagger that makes it memorable. Rzewski’s treatment traverses the full range of modern techniques and devices, including the pianist whistling and slamming the lid of the keyboard. Much of this music is very accessible, and does not stray too far away from folk and jazz influences.

There have been several recordings of this 1975 work, including by the composer himself, but Dutch pianist van Raat matches the best of them. His ad-libbed improvisation towards the end combines minimalism with the pounding brute force of the track that follows. That, Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, is the ultimate musical portrait of relentless industrialisation and depersonalisation in our age of machines. Ardently recommended.

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